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Style Choices - the DB "Reefer" Jacket


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#1 Sator

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 07:44 PM

One of the common things that gets asked is the question about the choice of single breasted (SB) lounge jacket vs a double breasted (DB) jacket. The traditional name for the DB jacket is a reefer jacket, because of its nautical origins. It used to be considered sportier because of this, and the SB lounge dressier.

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However, times and fashions change. These days, many regard the SB lounge to be a simpler and less ostentatious garment that is more in keeping with the modern preference for plainness. The DB reefer jacket, on the other hand, has always tended to go in and out of fashion.

Contrary to popular opinion there is no real difference in the way a SB and DB jacket are drafted. It is actually extremely easy for your tailor to take the pattern for your SB coat and turn it into a DB jacket. This is actually something that only takes a few minutes to do. The foundation of a good DB coat is a good SB coat. So if your tailor has previously made you a nice SB lounge jacket, you may want to consider ordering a DB jacket. You may never want to go back.

When you order your DB jacket there are a few styling options which are very easy to adjust during a fitting.

The lapels of a DB jacket are known variously as DB lapels, pointed lapels, winged lapels or even peaked lapels:

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The width of these lapels are fairly narrow. The width of the lapels changes according to fashion. At the moment we are back in a period with narrow lapels like the 1960s, probably in part due to the Mad Men influence. This can be worn by most figures to produce a slimming effect. However, those with a wider face are better served with a somewhat slightly wider lapel to make the face look narrow by comparison.

At other periods, a wider lapel shape is preferred such as on this 1938 example:

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Notice the way the lapel curves outwards. The lapel is then described as a having "belly".

DB jackets are described as button-one, button-two or button-three coats depending on how many buttons can be actually be fastened. There is also a row of "show buttons". These cannot be buttoned up and are just there for "show". If a coat closes with two buttonholes and there is a vertical row of three show buttons, it is called a "button-two show-three" coat:

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Today, this has become the most common button configuration for reefers. If you prefer the most conservative and most neutral styling for your coat, then this is what you should ask for. Notice the way that the top two buttons are set further apart. The most conservative modern configuration is to have a moderate lapel width, with a touch of belly on the lapels.

One factor you should keep in mind is that a DB coat can run a touch warmer but the choice of cloth is more important, and you can still wear a DB coat in the summer. Conservative cloth choices for a suit that will get a lot of wear include a plain dark to charcoal grey worsted, however navy can project a slightly more youthful image.

If you only want a touch of subtle surface interest a type of weave known as a pick and pick may be a good choice. This example comes from the Dugdale Bros English Classics book:

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The salt-and-pepper effect is only noticeable from close up.

Alternatively, a herringbone design adds understated surface interest:

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However, if you are wearing it to work, you may want to consider stripes. Those who prefer a conservative look may want to choose a design with narrow cream stripes that are about 1.5-2 cm apart or so. This example from Dugdale English Classics is a classical pin stripe:

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Rope stripes like this example are also very classical:

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The more conservative striped designs may get you comments about looking like a stock broker, and some feel that it can look too business like to wear to social functions. However, you can also get slightly fancier stripes like this:

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For winter wear chalk stripes (with the fuzzy, indistinct stripes) are very stylish:

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Fanciers stripes add a touch of fun to even the most conservative cuts. The cloth choice is entirely up to your taste and personality, and you should feel free to choose accord to your personal preferences.

#2 Sator

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 07:45 PM

One way to add a touch of flamboyance to an otherwise conservative cut is to choose a cloth design with a bit of colour to it. Here are some ideas.

An tastefully understated red pin stripe (Dugdale Royal Classics):

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A bolder red chalk stripe (Dugdale English Classics):

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Fancy spiral shaped electric blue stripes (Thomas Fisher S100s):

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Lavender coloured double stripes (Thomas Fisher S100s):

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A number of merchants also offer designs with pink stripes, including Dugdale and Harrisons but unfortunately the pinks come out washed out on the computer screen. They look much nicer in real life.

Another option that still looks good for business is the dark, understated Prince of Wales check (Dugdale English Classics:

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Of course, the more classic Prince of Wales check in lighter tones is still a classic (Dugdale Royal Classics):

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For those who want something a bit bolder, the combination of a DB jacket with bold window panes looks quite dramatic:

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If you look around you will be able to find designs with more brilliant window panes - such as purple, lavender, pink and red. However, the combination of these flamboyant cloth designs with a double breasted coat will turn heads, and you should be aware of this.

#3 Sator

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 08:56 PM

We are supposed to live an age of previously unheard of freedom in our manner of dress. Yet the strange thing is that when it comes to the DB reefer jacket, we live in age of extreme conservatism. It doesn't help at all that fashion designers put out totally unwearable runway models that are so weird that it sends the average man retreating into a position of extreme reactionary conservatism.

Yet, there are many interesting style options, many of which are very tasteful ways by which the wearer can express themselves. First we will start with one more subtle and still perfectly conservative variation.

The following is an example of a button-one, show-two DB reefer from a 1960s fashion plate:

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This is a configuration that is a bit overdue for a reappearance. It was seen in the 1930s, and made a reappearance in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. The main thing about it is the extra length of the lapels and the way it shows a bit more shirt. This model tends to be equally suitable for summer wear because of it's greater openness, which also lends it a bit of freshness. The following fashion plate comes from 1938:

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(As an aside, notice the presence of a waistcoat underneath the DB coat. It used to be common to wear a DB waistcoat underneath the coat. It can be a novel and interesting look today, because it not found in RTW garments. If you remove your coat at the office it reveals the dramatic cut of a DB waistcoat underneath - as well as giving you extra pockets to carry your phone, keys, memory stick etc.)

Because the button-one reefer last returned in the 1980s some people associate it with this period but as the previous examples show, this need not be the case at all.

#4 Sator

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:04 PM

The next configuration is just a simple variation on the button two reefer. If you remember, the standard button-two, show-three reefer has two show buttons at the top, which are off-set a little compared to the other buttons. However, notice on the next illustration that the top two buttons are set in line and parallel to the other buttons:

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You can see that this is a 1960s Mad Men/Mod era illustration. The silhouettes of this period tended to be slimmer, the coats shorter with narrow lapels and slimmer cut trousers that were hemmed a little shorter. It's also exactly where we are again in the fashion cycle. The way the top two buttons are set parallel to the others buttons emphasises the slimness of the cut. It is something that probably suits taller and more slender figures.

If you decide you don't like it, you can easily change it on a finished suit, so you can experiment without being stuck with your styling decision.

#5 Sator

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:24 PM

The Button-Three Reefer Jacket

The next example is that of a button-three reefer. These were fashionable in the 1960s. It is best suited to a younger and more slender figure. It is something that is so rarely seen these days that it looks rather dramatic, yet youthful and sporty.

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To make it even more fashionable the coat even has slanting side pockets. Of course, it doesn't have to have this detail.

Here are more examples of this style:

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It is best to keep the coat a tad on the longer side for this style. I find that it looks much better when the lapels are kept narrow. You can also make the chest pocket narrower in keeping with the narrow lapels.

It takes someone willing to try something that is a little more daring and who has the figure to carry off such a style to make this sort of thing work. There is one more thing to note about this sort of more daring button-three design and that it is best to keep that cloth design simpler. It tends to be a bit too much when you combine a daring cut with a bold cloth choice.

#6 Sator

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 12:18 PM

The DB Odd Jacket and the Blazer

The next issue I want to address is that of formality. There is an unfortunate tendency to assume that all tailored clothing is very boring and serious - for work only but not for play.

We've already seen that the reefer jacket was originally just a sports jacket for yachting and sailing. Here is one example from Sciamat:

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The greater openness of the button-one configuration has been combined with a brilliant orange cloth design with fancy overcheck. Curved patch pockets also add to the casual feel of the coat.

However, it doesn't have to be as brilliantly colourful as all that. It should be remembered, however, that the term "blazer" relates to the fact that these were traditionally made of blazing bright colours. It is unfortunate that the term "blazer" is too often misused to mean a boring and dull solid navy coloured reefer jacket worn with gilt (originally yacht club) buttons.

Another option is to make the blazer up in bright stripes, known as regatta stripes:

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Care has to be taken to choose a brilliant striped sporting design. Scabal have a whole book of cloth designs dedicated to this. The title of the book is "Blazer". You should avoid (on pain of death) having an odd coat (without matching trousers) made up in a stock broker's pinstripe, because it looks like your dog has eaten the trousers and you are trying to pass off your suit jacket as a sports jacket. Charity stores are also a good source of such orphaned suit jackets - and you don't want to look like you buy your clothes that way.

Of course, the navy coloured blazer has become a modern staple in many men's wardrobes, and there is nothing wrong with that either. Any navy coloured worsted of your choice is perfectly fine for this purpose (there is no reason to be dogmatic and insist that it has to be hopsack). For example, for the summer a light fresco or mohair blend would be an ideal choice. Lighter shades of navy help to recapture the youthful sportiness of the garment's origin. It is most unfortunate that the sporting reefer jacket has lost a lot of its original vibrancy and has become a staid and stereotypical semi-formal garment.

Keep in mind, that odd reefer jackets (ie ones made up without matching trousers) don't have to be blazers. A blazer has to a sporting garment eg club gilt buttons, or regatta stripes (traditionally in the design of your club/school). You can choose a cloth with a more colourful, more casual design and match this with lighter coloured buttons (light horn buttons, plain silver or leather buttons for example), and patch pockets. Here are some cloth choice suggestions (all from the Dugdale New Fine Worsted range):

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There is no reason you should not choose a bright coloured tweed design for winter wear either.

#7 Sator

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Posted 18 May 2011 - 08:06 PM

The Summer DB Reefer Jacket

The amount of added warmth from the overlap at the front of a DB jacket isn't as important as you would think. As previously mentioned, it is preferable that you have your DB reefer cut to button one only.

DB jackets also look elegant in summer designs - both as odd jackets as well as when made up as a suit. Here is a nice odd jacket made by Jefferyd in a cool and breezy pastel blue shade:

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Notice the mother of pearl buttons. I personally think this would make a nice suit too.

Even when a DB suit is intended for business wear, on sultry summer days it can look appropriate to wear a suit that matches the climate. Here are some nice suggestions for summer DB suits (from the Thomas Fisher Cape Breeze book):

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#8 Hedges

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Posted 20 May 2011 - 05:50 AM

Great topic, Sator.

I am actually having a DB blazer made up in a dark blue hopsack. It will be a 4 button, 3 patch pocket, half lined, finished with smooky mother of pearl buttons.

I had what should be the final fitting a few days ago. This will be my first DB jacket, I'm really looking forward to it!

#9 YoungLawyer

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:50 PM

Do you, SATOR, have any more illustrations of 'blue' blazers that would fit into this thread?
I'm still looking for a suitable mid to dark blue cloth for my next blazer. The rtw offerings, even from good tailors like Ede and Gieves tend to be of very mean looking cloth.

#10 Sator

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 11:17 AM

A blue DB odd jacket, whether styled as a yacht club jacket with gilt buttons or otherwise is just another reefer jacket. I am afraid I doubt I'd be able to dig up different illustrations or photos for reefers in every colour of the rainbow. However, I think I did see one interesting one on the Sciamat blog the other day.

The choice is up to you when it comes to cloth choice, the cut, and button selection. I wouldn't think too hard about it and just order what appeals to you and follow the styling suggestions of your tailor too.

#11 brescd01

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 05:45 AM

Can someone explain why the 2 x 2 (if I am describing it correctly, described as "button-one, show-two DB reefer from a 1960s fashion plate") jacket is not a "Kent style" jacket, also the one from "Sciamat"?

#12 Sator

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 11:32 AM

Personally, I'm a bit over this business of giving a fancy name for a coat that merely has one extra show buttonhole on it. You can sew as many show buttonholes on a lapel edge as you want. I have seen some hideous Victorian tailcoats with several show buttonholes up and down the lapel edge. These are just minor style variations that come in and out of fashion along with lapel width, coat length etc. However, people do often like to market fashions by giving them some pet name eg The Kent, The Oxford, The Joe, The Horsey or whatever. I have heard it said that it helps clients to feel more personally attached to the garment. In the case of the so-called Kent, it was a nickname given to a button one DB coat but with an extra decorative show buttonhole along the lapel edge. If you like a certain style detail, by all means ask your tailor to add it.

#13 brescd01

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 10:02 PM

Sator, give me a break! hat jacket would be a "Kent" if it has a button hole along the lapel? Isn't there always a button hole to corrspond to the "unbuttoned button"?

#14 Nishijin

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 10:59 PM

Giving names is a good marketing tool, and marketing helps making sales and keeping tailoring alive. Marketing is good for the tailors.
I've always understood the "Kent" to be a coat that looks like a "button 2, show 2", looking like to be buttoned to the top row, but buttoned on the bottom row only. It looks casual when it is a real 2x2, because the lapel breaks at the top row, and looks more tidy when the lapel breaks at the bottom row, though this late style is a "formalisation" of a much-worn coat where the lapel break would have fallen out of wearing it in this very casual way.

This is the same idea for reefers that we can see in "Ivy league" style lounge coats, where the coat is a 3 buttons, but fasten at the middle button only, with the lapel breaking at the middle button (and we can see a "for show" buttonhole in the lapel above).



I think both are ways to put a little "sprezzatura" in one's outfit ("I dressed in such hurry this morning I did not see I fastened the wrong button"), that became formalised with moving the lapel break line.
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#15 Sator

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 11:39 PM

I'm not giving you a hard time at all. I'm just stating the objective facts of the construction of the coat.

The so-called Kent style is a button-one show-three DB reefer with an extra show buttonhole. It has it's canvas cut and the bridle set exactly like any ordinary button-one DB reefer. My understanding is that it isn't a button-two DB coat with the top button left unbuttoned (even if this is what the Duke of Kent may have originally done).

Let me illustrate. This is a button-one DB jacket:

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To make up the so-called Kent style, you would construct the coat the same way in every regard to bridle the coat to button one. You would set the fold line on the shell and the canvas in the same position. Then once the coat is ready to be finished you would ask your finisher (who makes your buttonholes for you) to add an extra decorative buttonhole to the lapel line like this:

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This is why this buttonhole is a decorative buttonhole - just as the top lapel buttonhole (for a boutonnière) is a decorative buttonhole.

If you really wanted to, you could do the same thing with a button-two DB coat and add an extra decorative buttonhole in a similar fashion:

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The decorative buttonhole does not alter the objective foundations of the inner construction of the coat.

In fact, you could add as many decorative buttonholes as you want. In the following example the coat has two rows of three decorative buttonholes:

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Instead of adding one decorative buttonhole, as in the so-called Kent style, you could ask your finisher to add a dozen buttonholes (with or without show buttons to go with it) and call it the dodeca-Kent if you wanted to. I have added extra decorative buttonholes and show buttons to illustrate how something like this might look:

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Irrespective of how many decorative buttonholes and show buttons you add, the fundamentals of the objective construction of the coat remain unchanged. The only thing that changes the objective foundations is whether the coat is cut to button one, two or three.

#16 Sator

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 11:44 PM

Giving names is a good marketing tool, and marketing helps making sales and keeping tailoring alive. Marketing is good for the tailors.
I've always understood the "Kent" to be a coat that looks like a "button 2, show 2", looking like to be buttoned to the top row, but buttoned on the bottom row only.


Just to illustrate how marketing generated names are confusing, I understood that a Kent was constructed as a button-one coat but with an extra show button. It is like a button-two show-one single breasted lounge jacket. Otherwise, the Kent wouldn't be a type of coat, but just a way of wearing a button-two DB coat by leaving the top button undone and doing up only the bottom button.

#17 Nishijin

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 12:26 AM

Sator, we are saying the same thing, refering to the same garment, but we explain it in two different ways. You explain how things are constructed today, while I explain how they look for an non-tailor eye (very few people understand how the lapel break line is constructed and why it is somewhere and not anywhere else).

I really think (but may be wrong) that the Kent is "just a way of wearing a button-two DB coat by leaving the top button undone and doing up only the bottom button" that got formalised later in constructing the lapel break line to the lower row. That's why it has a buttonhole "for show". Same evolution as "button 3 roll to 2" in lounge coats.



The many buttonholes "for show" on those old dress coats are a remnant of the time when DB coats really could fasten unto the top (like a military great coat). Then the coat was worn always "open", then the useless buttonholes were removed.
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#18 Nishijin

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 12:30 AM

BTW, does anyone has pictures of the Duke of Kent wearing his coat in this way ? I couldn't find any...
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